Kingfisher Airlines should not forget the staff's role in any likely turnaround
The unending woes of Kingfisher Airlines have been brought into sharp focus by the suicide of a ground engineer's wife, allegedly because she was depressed owing to the fact that her husband had not received his salary for six months. The financial travails of the carrier were bad enough. But now it appears that the management has succeeded in alienating a substantial section of its staff.
Frequent staff strikes and media reports about disgruntlement in the staff point to a serious rift between the management and the employees. Non-payment of wages for months on end is bound to cause distress among the employees. But if the management appears to be insensitive to boot, it cannot but augur ill for the company.
If employees are the best ambassadors of a company, disgruntled staffers of KFA, or at least a significant section of the staff, are proving to be its worst envoys. They are resorting to strikes. Some of them took out a candlelight procession to express solidarity with the bereaved colleague and many are not hesitating to speak to the media, albeit guardedly (for they fear they might be taken to task for doing so).
There is a lockout in the airline until October 12 though there is no knowing whether operations will be resumed on that date. There was some good news on Friday, after the Income Tax Department lifted the freeze on KFA's accounts. The banks provided a temporary reprieve by agreeing to release Rs. 60 crore-on "humanitarian grounds" said the State Bank Chairman -- so that the carrier could pay some salary dues. This infusion should help.
The Centre's new-found zeal for reforms has also helped: It has allowed direct investment by foreign airlines in civil aviation. The carrier may yet prove Cassandras wrong by finding an investor. The CEO of the airline is upbeat. But even in the best case scenario, the road to recovery would be long and winding. The airline's task would be made easier if the antagonism between the management and the staff were mitigated expeditiously. The two sides accusing each other of bad faith is doing neither the company nor the brand any good.
Surely the management realises that a workforce that has not been paid for six months cannot be expected to be anything but sullen. And surely it realises that no turnaround plan can succeed without the staff going about its tasks with zeal and passion. The best stories of corporate revival in business history are those in which the concerned company's employees have participated with optimum enthusiasm.
We do not know if the management has taken the employees into confidence about the nature and the seriousness of the challenges that the carrier faces. Internal communication in organisations is often at a discount in the best of times. When the organisation is beleaguered, it is particularly prone to be so. From the conduct of the staff it would seem that there is work that remains to be done in this area. This is the time to tell employees about what the management is seeking to do, to empathise with them, help them in all possible ways and fill them with hope and enthusiasm about the better times ahead.
The staff has stood by the management for so many months. With support from the management (including paying such of its dues as can be paid), the staff will continue to do so till the tide turns and will jump passionately into the task of revival once the carrier is recapitalised.
But time is running out for KFA. The regulator struck on Friday by issuing a show cause notice, demanding to know why the carrier's licence should not be cancelled. The airline has 15 days to reply.
More about Vivek SenguptaPublic affairs analyst Vivek Sengupta is Founder and Chief Executive of the consulting firm Moving Finger Communications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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